Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Council's vote today could mark start of statewide campaign finance reform

Council's vote today could mark start of statewide campaign finance reform: "House and Senate candidates spent $57.1 million during the 2006 election cycle."
Folks like Michael Diven and Wayne Fontana each have big chunks of that money. And that money came, mostly from gambling interests.

In the city, the last big flow of money came from Mon Valley Expressway land speculators. They were able to buy off Mayor Tom Murphy and City Council President Bob O'Connor.

When the "big boys" burn campaign money -- just like they do the public purse (and squander the public trust) -- I don't mind. But I do get yanked off at the reporting of those funds in such slanted ways.

For example, Jon Delano always makes a big, harry deal about the money in the war chests of the candidates. Go figure. This is because KDKA, Delano's employer, gets the lion's share of the money that candidate's over-spend. Local media elites won't cover the true story of the campaigns and the issues. They are not worthy of being called real journalists, generally. They are driven by the advertising money.


Anonymous said...

Council's vote today could mark start of statewide campaign finance reform
Tuesday, June 03, 2008
By Rich Lord, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Pittsburgh City Council is set to cast a final vote on campaign finance reforms today, in what some advocates see as a step toward statewide rules on donations to candidates.

Even a foe of the proposed city ordinance, Councilman Jim Motznik, said yesterday that he wants statewide campaign cash caps. Mr. Motznik drafted a resolution urging the General Assembly to follow Pittsburgh's lead "to create an even playing field for campaign financing across the state," which could come up for a vote today.

In the long term, the state following the city's lead isn't far-fetched, said state Sen. Jay Costa, D-Forest Hills.

"The adoption of an ordinance by the city of Pittsburgh will advance the ball with respect to a statewide campaign finance effort," he said.

The proposed city ordinance, authored by Councilman William Peduto, would bar candidates for city office from taking more than $2,000 per election from any individual or partnership, and more than $5,000 from any of the political committees that represent corporations and unions. Those limits would double if any candidate used $250,000 of his or her own money for campaigns, and big donors would have to disclose any contracts, employment relationships or board appointments with the city or its authorities.

It got a 5-1 tentative nod on Wednesday, with Mr. Motznik voting no and three abstentions.

"Peduto's bill is a good bill," said Mr. Motznik. "It creates an increasing level of transparency in regards to who donates to campaigns. ... But I do think it creates such an unfair advantage to city officials when it comes to running countywide or statewide."

For instance, if a city councilman and an Allegheny County councilman covet the same state seat, the former would face limits until officially becoming a state candidate, while the latter could bring in checks of unlimited size.

When they officially became state candidates, they could raise money under state rules, which now include no cap on check size.

A city official "would have maybe a little bit larger hill to overcome, because he would probably have a smaller war chest to play with," said Barry Kauffman, executive director of Common Cause/Pennsylvania. He argued that the city official's disadvantage would be minor.

Philadelphia passed limits in 2006, which were approved by the state Supreme Court in December.

"If [legislators] see that Philadelphia has done it, and Pittsburgh has done it," Mr. Motznik said, "maybe more of the state senators and House members will realize that the state should be the leader in this."

Reform groups have adopted the opposite strategy.

"We spent 30 years smashing our head against the wall, trying to get campaign finance reform passed by the legislature," said Mr. Kauffman.

In the 1990s, they decided to try the city level.

They're working on getting local reforms in place in cities and large townships, he said.

Local legislation "raises the subject," said state Rep. Dave Levdansky, D-Forward, a longtime advocate for campaign contribution limits. "You essentially have built a block of votes" from towns that have local reform.

He has testified that state House and Senate candidates spent $57.1 million during the 2006 election cycle.

The five-figure bundles in which that money comes distort politics, said Mr. Kauffman. "Campaign contributions drive what gets on the agenda."

Mr. Costa said that the legislature's 2008 schedule is packed with budget, health, energy and education issues. Statewide campaign reform stands a better chance next year, he said.

Pennsylvania is one of 12 states with no contribution limits.

Rich Lord can be reached at rlord@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1542.
First published on June 3, 2008 at 12:00 am

Anonymous said...

Pittsburgh narrowly OKs campaign finance reforms
By Jeremy Boren
Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Buzz up!
Post to MySpace!
StumbleUpon Toolbar

Pittsburgh City Council today narrowly passed limits on political campaign contributions.

In a 5-4 vote, the council capped contributions from individual donors to $2,000 per election. Political action committees would be limited to donations of $5,000 per election. If Mayor Luke Ravenstahl signs the legislation, the restrictions would take effect Jan. 1, 2010 and affect only candidates for the city's 11 elected offices.

"I will not be supporting the bill, simply because I believe that if campaign finance reform is to be adopted, it needs to be adopted statewide," said Councilman Jim Motznik, who voted against the limits with council members Tonya Payne, Dan Deasy and Darlene Harris.

Councilman Patrick Dowd said statewide adoption is irrelevant because the restrictions mirror federal standards.

story continues below

"We don't need the state to do that," Dowd said. "We're following the lead of the Federal Elections Commission. If those limitations are good enough for Barack Obama, for example, then they're good enough for the nine elected City Council members, the city controller and the mayor."

Also voting in favor of the legislation were council President Doug Shields and members Ricky Burgess, Bruce Kraus and Bill Peduto, the bill's sponsor.

In addition to the donation restrictions, the ordinance would prohibit donors who give the maximum amount to a candidate from receiving a city contract without going through a competitive bidding process. Candidates who spend $250,000 or more on their own campaigns would trigger a provision that would double their opponents' contribution limits.

Ravenstahl previously has voiced skepticism about campaign finance limits. It isn't immediately clear whether the mayor will sign or veto the legislation.

Jeremy Boren can be reached at jboren@tribweb.com or 412-765-2312.